The unemployment rate in Spokane County held steady in June despite the loss of almost 2,200 jobs, most of those in private education.
At 8.9 percent, the rate was below the 9.2 percent for all of Washington, and the 9.1 percent for King County.
Not since December 1996, when area electronics companies were thriving, has Spokane County had a lower rate than that for Seattle-Bellevue, said Doug Tweedy, regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department. The spread then was 0.1 percent, 4.6 percent versus 4.7 percent.
The rate for Spokane County in June 2008 was 5.3 percent.
Tweedy said employees of private schools, who work on nine-month contracts, typically cause unemployment rolls to swell in June by about 2,000. The loss of 300 retail trade jobs accounts for much of the rest of the county’s job losses, he said.
Health care added 300 jobs, Tweedy said, as did local government, including hires at Northern Quest Casino, an enterprise of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.
The unemployment rate remained flat as the labor force fell in June by 2,500, to 239,500, because many workers who had moved into Spokane in search of jobs returned to rural areas, Tweedy said. Seasonal work took some of the edge off unemployment in surrounding counties, although jobless rates in several remained in double digits.
Pend Oreille County’s rate fell to 13.4 percent from 15.4 percent in May, Ferry County’s to 12.1 percent from 12.6 percent, and Stevens County’s to 12.4 percent from 12.9 percent.
“Some of those communities are doing better,” Tweedy said.
He noted Spokane County unemployment peaked in March at 10.3 percent. March was also the high point during the 2000-01 recession, which ended after eight months. The current recession is already 18 months old, he said.
“We don’t expect the rate to drop as quickly as it did after the last recession,” Tweedy said.
The state lost 10,500 jobs in June and has shed 117,800 since June 2008, according to Greg Weeks, head of the ESD labor market information office.
About 333,000 people in Washington are looking for work, he said.